Processing Magazine

Pasta makers'' business cooking as economy drops

January 21, 2009
As struggling consumers turn to casseroles, soup, pasta salad and good old macaroni and cheese to stretch their food dollars, the nation''s pasta makers are returning to a rolling boil after many years overshadowed by the low-carbohydrate fad. The Associated Press reports that sales of pasta products in the United States -- including frozen and refrigerated pasta, canned pasta, soup mixes and prepared dinners -- rose 5 percent last year to $6.4 billion, according to Kansas City-based American Italian Pasta Co., the nation''s largest manufacturer of dry pasta. Most of that increase came as manufacturers passed along a stiff jump in the price of wheat and other costs. Total U.S. pasta consumption rose 0.4 percent by volume, according to The Nielsen Co., although those numbers don''t include sales at Wal-Mart Stores Inc., where industry officials say noodle numbers grew even faster. The volume increase is particularly welcome because pasta consumption had been falling 1 percent or 2 percent annually for years because of high-protein diet fads, according to a spokeswoman for the National Pasta Association. The U.S. division of Italy-based Barilla Group, the world''s largest pasta manufacturer, saw a 15 percent boost in pasta volume and a 22 percent increase in sales. The company, which makes Barilla-branded pasta, has also seen success with pasta made with whole wheat or extra fiber, calcium, omega-3 and other nutrients. In 2008, consumption of dry pasta hit its highest level since 2003, according to American Italian Pasta, which makes consumer brands such as Ronco, Mueller''s and Pennsylvania Dutch and supplies pasta for in-house grocery store brands and for manufacturers who use pasta in prepared dishes.